Are You a Game-Changer or a Problem-Fixer?

Are You a Game-Changer or a Problem-Fixer?

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January 08, 2014
TEP Man at a Crossroads CIO

By Minda Zetlin

CIO magazine’s annual survey of CIOs exposed a sharp divide between two distinct types of CIOs: Those whose IT operations are seen as a game-changing strategic partner in the business, and those whose IT operations are seen as a cost center that mainly fixes problems. The 25 percent of survey respondents who report being seen as partners are living starkly different lives than their cost-center counterparts. Sixty-four percent of them report directly to the CEO, compared to 37 percent of their cost-center colleagues. Their average compensation is $249,000, compared with $182,000 for the cost-center CIOs. Significantly, like their C-suite colleagues, the strategic partner CIOs are likeliest to receive extra compensation when the company hits sales or profit goals. There could be no clearer signal that these strategic CIOs are seen as an essential part of reaching those goals.

Cost-center CIOs and strategic CIOs also describe their jobs very differently. Cost-center CIOs describe their main priorities as finishing major enterprise projects, simplifying IT, and—not surprisingly--cutting costs. Strategic CIOs say their priorities are to lead project innovation and enable global expansion.

Many of the CIOs whose compensation is paid to the company’s performance have roles that bring them—and their IT staff—into contact with customers. Interestingly, resistance to putting IT folk directly in front of customers comes not from the business at large but from IT staffers, according to 47 percent of respondents. But the smartest CIOs jump at the chance to meet with external customers. One CIO interviewed by CIO volunteered to do a talk on cutting IT costs for one of her company’s customers.

IT project overseer or strategic company leader—which would you prefer to be? And if your current job description doesn’t match that aspiration, what will you plan to change in 2014?

Minda Zetlin is co-author of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive. Learn more at

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